Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor—
FIFA president Gianni Infantino is set to travel to Zimbabwe next week for a high-profile visit that has sent long-serving CAF boss Issa Hayatou into panic mode as the Cameroonian is cognisant of the blustery winds of change sweeping through the corridors of power in African football. The Swiss lawyer is scheduled to fly into Harare next weekend and will be the guest of honour at an all-star bash being organised by ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa, where he will celebrate his belated 58th birthday and his historic victory in the battle for the COSAFA presidency.
Ironically, Chiyangwa’s bash, in which he has invited a number of football leaders from across the continent, also coincides with the first anniversary of Infantino’s election as FIFA president in Zurich, Switzerland, on February 26, last year.
The FIFA boss is expected to first grace the world football governing body’s executive summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on February 21 and 23, and then fly to Harare to grace the festivities that have been lined up to celebrate Chiyangwa’s rise to become the COSAFA leader just a year after he also won the right to be the ZIFA president.
The Harare businessman’s camp has been inviting a number of prominent African football leaders to the bash being held under the theme “Doctor Philip Chiyangwa’s Birthday And COSAFA Presidency Victory Celebrations.”
“It is with utmost pleasure that I write to you to invite you, in my personal capacity, to celebrate and to mark my victory as COSAFA president and my belated birthday as I was born on the 3rd of February,” reads Chiyangwa’s invitation letter to the African football leaders.
“The celebrations will be held on the 24th of February 2017 in Harare, Zimbabwe. The FIFA president, president Infantino, will grace the occasion as the guest of honour. “It is my hope that you will find time in your busy schedule to attend these very important and historic celebrations.”
Infantino’s camp have already confirmed the FIFA president’s visit to Zimbabwe.
“Please find attached a copy of the passports from the FIFA president Gianni Infantino, from the chief of the president’s office, Matthias Grafstrom from the director of Associations Members Veron Mosego,” an email from Guy-Phillipe Mathieu, a member of the FIFA president’s office read.
But, in a season where a lot of focus has turned to the battle for the CAF presidency where Hayatou, who came to power in 1988, faces a battle from the leader of the Madagascar Football Association Ahmad Ahmad next month, the Cameroonian strongman’s camp has gone into panic mode over the convergence of scores of African football leaders in Harare.
They believe the gathering could be used as part of the campaign strategy for Ahmad, who at the weekend received the endorsement from the COSAFA countries following a meeting of the region’s leadership in South Africa last Saturday.
“The Council of Southern Africa Football Associations held a productive meeting of all member presidents in Johannesburg on Saturday 11 Feb,” COSAFA said in a statement.
“The meeting produced a number of resolutions, including the full endorsement of the Madagascar Football Association president, known simply as Ahmad, as he seeks the position of president of the Confederation of African Football at the governing body’s elections in Ethiopia next month.
“COSAFA has resolved to only support sitting presidents of the various FAs when individuals vie for CAF or FIFA elections.
“COSAFA also supports equal representation within both CAF and FIFA positions, as well as the different language category representation as articulated in recent CAF statutes.”
This open rebellion against the Hayatou by an entire region has sent shivers among his backers, who now believe the convergence of football leaders in Harare next week was part of the campaign strategy to prop up Ahmad’s candidature.
Yesterday, Hayatou, through CAF secretary-general Hicham El Amrami, wrong a strongly-worded letter to Chiyangwa threatening him with unspecified action should he go ahead with meeting football leaders from outside the COSAFA region in Harare next week.
“The president of CAF, Issa Hayatou, directs me to send you this letter in relation to the above-mentioned subject (Convening of presidents of member associations in Harare, Zimbabwe, on February 2017),” the CAF secretary-general said in his letter.
“The CAF leadership has been informed that a meeting is convened by yourself in your capacity as COSAFA chairman, in Harare, Zimbabwe, on February 24th 2017, right after the FIFA Executive Summit planned in Johannesburg on February 21st to 23rd 2017.
“Such a meeting would not include only presidents of member associations of COSAFA, but also presidents of many member associations outside the zonal union of COSAFA. The CAF leadership would like to remind you that you do not have any authority to convene such a meeting, without CAF knowledge nor without its required approval.
“While it would be acceptable to convene a meeting of the leaders of your zonal union, convening a meeting with representatives of many member associations outside COSAFA zone is deemed to represent an attempt to destabilize CAF.
“CAF would like to remind you of Article 2.3 of its statutes stating that:
‘Any person or organisation involved in football in Africa has to respect at all times and unreservedly the principles of ethics and fair play enacted by CAF, the principles of integrity and sportsmanship as well as the Statutes, regulations, decisions and directives of CAF and FIFA.’
“Furthermore, please be kindly reminded that Articles 14.2 of CAF Statutes clearly highlight obligations of zonal unions, including Articles 14.2.c and 14.2.d:
‘…each zonal union shall have the obligation to:
c) Fully comply with the Statutes, regulations, directives, and decisions of CAF and FIFA;
d) Work in close collaboration with CAF in all spheres, in order to attain the objectives of the Confederation.’
“We draw your attention therefore to the obligation of all zonal unions to respect the authority of CAF, and not to conduct in any activities that undermine the common objectives of CAF, for the benefit of African football development.
“We are keen therefore to receive further details on this planned meeting in Harare, and we do hope that CAF Statutes and directives will be fully complied with at all times. The CAF Executive Committee reserves it rights to sanction any infringement to the CAF Statutes.
“Please accept, dear president, our most sincere regards.”
Yesterday, Chiyangwa said he will only respond to the CAF leadership after finding out from his legal team if it was an offence, in terms of the statutes governing both CAF and FIFA, for him to invite fellow African football leaders to celebrations to mark his birthday bash and also his rise to become COSAFA boss.
“I’m yet to respond to that letter because I have to get advice from my legal team if there is a violation of football statutes that govern both CAF and FIFA in inviting my fellow football leaders to my belated birthday celebrations and also to mark my victory in the race for the COSAFA presidency,” said Chiyangwa.
Interestingly, Hayatou didn’t see any issues when the Nigerian football leadership invited scores of football leaders from across the continent last year to meet Infantino on his first visit to the continent as FIFA boss.
Chiyangwa was one of those African football leaders who went to Nigeria.
“This is to respectfully invite you to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to join the Nigerian Football Federation in welcoming to our great country, the president of football’s world governing body, …Infantino to Nigeria on a two-day working visit,” read the invitation letter from Nigerian Football Federation president Amadu Pinnick.
“The said visit has been confirmed for Sunday, July 24, 2016 and Monday, July 25, 2016. You are expected to arrive in Nigeria through …on Saturday.”